Doc. 9220

21 September 2001

Illegal activities of sects

Recommendation 1412 (1999)

Reply from the Committee of Ministers

adopted at the 765th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (19 September 2001)

1.       The Committee of Ministers has carefully studied Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1412 on illegal activities of sects. It is aware that the problems posed in Recommendation 1412, and in particular those described in paragraph 9 of the Recommendation, are a serious preoccupation for many member states throughout Europe. The Committee agrees whole-heartedly with the Assembly that it is essential to ensure that the activities of these groups, be they of a religious, esoteric or spiritual nature, are in keeping with the principles of our democratic societies (cf. paragraph 6 of the recommendation).

2.       The Committee underlines in this context that for their part, governments are under an obligation, in their dealings with such groups, to remain in conformity not only with Article 9 but with all the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and other relevant instruments protecting the dignity inherent to all human beings and their equal and inalienable rights. This entails, inter alia, a duty to respect the principles of religious freedom and non-discrimination.

3.       For these reasons, the Committee also welcomes the recommendation’s focus on activities of groups of a religious, esoteric or spiritual nature and, in particular, the Assembly’s call to governments of member states that legal measures in this area should be applied vis--vis illegal practices carried out in the name of and by such groups, using ordinarily available procedures of criminal and civil law (Paragraph 10. iii of the recommendation).

4.       The Committee is aware that the main aim of this recommendation is to protect human dignity and the most vulnerable people, in particular the children of persons belonging to groups of a religious, esoteric or spiritual nature, and that the recommendation attaches great importance, in this framework, to providing the public with information concerning such groups. In this context, it expresses general agreement with the ideas set out in paragraph 10 as a whole.

5.       Furthermore, the Committee is aware that a number of member states, in response to the call expressed in sub-paragraph 10.i of the recommendation, have either set up independent information centres or are in the process of doing so.

6.       With regard to the recommendation addressed to the Committee of Ministers in sub-paragraph 11.ii, i.e. that it “set up a European observatory on groups of a religious, esoteric or spiritual nature to make it easier for national centres to exchange information”, the Committee considers that, for resource reasons, it is not in a position to accede to this proposal. It would add that, in order to ensure reliability and objectivity of information collected and exchanged, (cf. paragraph 7 of the recommendation), such an institution would require substantial human and financial resources. However, the Committee of Ministers does not exclude the possibility that the Council of Europe, subject to the availability of budgetary resources, could play a facilitating role in promoting networking and exchange of information between existing national information centres. The same applies to the Assembly’s proposal to include specific activities in the co-operation and assistance programmes of the Council of Europe (paragraph 11.i of the recommendation). The Committee will inform the Assembly of any initiatives that might be envisaged in this regard.